How to Plant an English Laurel
Planting English laurel bushes is not a difficult task, but these showy, low-maintenance shrubs may not be the right choice for every garden. Sometimes called cherry laurel, the English laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) grows best in USDA plant hardiness zones 6a to 8b and will adapt to a range of growing conditions from alkaline soil to salt spray, although they will not tolerate poor drainage or very heavy soil.
Although English laurels are adaptable and versatile shrubs that require little maintenance, they have traits that make them undesirable for many gardeners. So it is best to learn about them before deciding to plant them at home.
About English Laurel Bushes
English laurels are evergreen shrubs grown for their glossy, dark green foliage and showy white flowers, which form 4-inch-long racemes during the spring. The pollinated flowers form clusters of black fruits that attract birds and other wildlife.
These shrubs or small trees are fast-growing and will reach a mature height of 10 to 20 feet with a spreading growth habit.
English laurels have evergreen leaves that make them well-suited for use as a privacy screen or as a hedge. Laurel hedges can be left informal with minimal pruning or they can be sheared into a formal hedge.
English laurels are extremely toxic to humans and animals when ingested; the stems, leaves and seeds all contain cyanide. Take critical precautions if planting this in your landscape, especially if you have animals such as horses that may graze.
English laurels form heavily scented flowers in spring that the North Carolina State University Extension describes as "sickeningly fragrant," so gardeners with a sensitive nose may want to plant a different species.
For smaller gardens, choose a dwarf form of English laurel such as Otto Luyken (Prunus laurocerasus ‘Otto Luyken’), which grows in USDA zones 6 to 9 and reaches a mature height of 3 feet with a 6-foot spread.
Planting English Laurel Shrubs
Grow English Laurel shrubs in full sun in USDA zones 6 to 7 and under partial shade in USDA zone 8, where the climate is hotter and the sun more intense. Moist, acidic soil that is high in organic matter is best for growing English laurels, but they will tolerate most soil types as long as it is well-draining soil.
- Plant English laurels in spring after the last frost. They can also be planted in autumn in USDA zone 8 where winters are fairly mild.
- Dig a planting hole that is two to three times wider than the original nursery pot and approximately 1 inch shallower—you want the roots to sit slightly higher than the surrounding soil, because they will eventually settle.
- Space the planting holes according to the shrub’s mature size. For standard English laurels, space them 6 feet apart for a tighter hedge and 12 feet apart for a loose, more informal hedge. Space dwarf laurels such as Otto Luyken 6 feet apart.
- Remove the shrub from its pot and massage the rootball to loosen the roots. Pot-bound roots can be cut in one or two places with a sharp, sanitized knife, which will encourage the roots to spread.
- Settle the rootball into the planting hole. Hold the shrub upright while filling in the hole with soil. Add soil until the roots are secure in the ground, but do not pile soil on top of the root ball.
- Water English laurel shrubs deeply after planting. Spread a 1- to 2-inch-thick layer of shredded bark mulch over the root zone. Leave a 1- to 2-inch space between the mulch layer and the base of the trunk and extend the mulch out beyond the leaf canopy.
Wet soil leads to root system problems in English laurels. So do not plant them where water pools or drains slowly after rainfall.
Growing English Laurel Shrubs
English laurel shrubs need regular care during their first growing season to help get them off to a good start, but they are relatively low-maintenance shrubs, once established.
Watering English Laurels
English laurels tolerate drought, but they need regular watering for their first year or two in the garden. When watering, be sure to direct the water toward the soil to keep it off the foliage.
Provide 1 inch of water each week during mild weather and up to 2 inches during hot, dry weather. Monrovia recommends waiting until the soil feels dry in the top 2 inches before watering English laurels, which will help prevent root problems.
Feeding English Laurels
Fertilize in early spring as the shrub is starting to put on new growth. English laurels should not be fed after midsummer, because the new leaves may not have time to mature before the first frost.
One application of slow-release fertilizer in spring is fine for English laurel shrubs grown in rich soil, but those grown in sandy soil or in partial sun may benefit more from a light application of well-rotted manure compost in spring and again in midsummer.
Before pruning, wipe down your pruning shears with household disinfectant to kill off any harmful fungal spores or bacteria.
Pruning English Laurels
Pruning English laurels is entirely optional. As a general rule, these fast-growing shrubs do not need any pruning until their second or third year. Pruning should be done immediately after the shrub finishes flowering in spring.
Prune to remove any unwanted growth throughout the growing season. Shear the shrubs to create a tidy, formal shape, if desired. Shearing is primarily done in spring after blooming, but it can be maintained throughout the growing season.
- According to floridata.com, English laurel plants are not drought tolerant and they require regular watering during the growing season.
- To help keep moisture in, and pesty weeds down, spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch around each of the English laurels. You can use grass clippings, pine bark, compost, or any similar organic material.
- The leaves, twigs, stems and seeds of English laurel are toxic.
Sasha Degnan holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and Anthropology. Her written work has appeared in both online and print publications. She is a certified Master Gardener and dedicated plant enthusiast with decades of experience growing and propagating native and exotic plant varieties.